Recently a Facebook friend of mine noted in his status message that JCPenney’s fan page had over 43,000 fans. He received several comments on the post, one of which suggested that this number was proof that people on Facebook ‘have no life’. That comment got me thinking about why, in fact, it was important for JCPenney to establish this fan page (which, by the way, currently boasts more than 487,000 fans) and why those people that identify as fans actually do have lives — relatively thoughtful lives, in fact. It should be acknowledged that I am *not* a documented Facebook fan of JCPenney’s. I have no real attachment to the retail chain or the brand and I don’t do any work for them. But it is worth examining what value JCPenney could see from a Facebook fan page, and why Facebook members would want to make their brand interest and loyalty official.
Its funny how people that are *on* Facebook could actually call out other members of Facebook for having ‘no life.’ We all have our own reasons for being there, and when we joined the network, I doubt we expected that one of those reasons would be to declare our loyalty or interest in one, or many, brands. But the fact of the matter is – brands are recognizing the importance of ‘going where the people are’. And if current stats are correct – the population of Facebook makes it the 4th largest country on the globe. You can’t deny the sheer penetration of Facebook as a brand and a service. The opportunity to get in front of millions of users in short order surpasses that of any other medium.
Let’s face it, the past couple of years have been rough on people all over the world. The global economy has taken a dramatic nosedive and people don’t know which end is up or when they can expect things to turn around. Consumers need more than their base desires to influence purchases. They need a *reason* to buy. And they need a reason to choose one retailer over another. Only 14% of people actually believe advertising (according to Marketing To The Social Web by Larry Weber). The rest of the population needs something else. They need to trust products and brands. They need endorsements from real people, trusted friends and colleagues. They need relationships with brands. We don’t spend money as easily as we did a few years ago. We need reasons to part with our hard earned cash. Connecting with a brand on Facebook gives us the opportunity to have these kinds of relationships.
Connecting with brands in the social space is a two-way street. As a consumer, I enjoy that sense of exclusivity. I am part of this test audience to run ads by, or to extend special, Facebook-only offers to. Perhaps I am informed of sales and limited product roll-outs early. Or maybe I just see next season’s back-to-school line before the general public. I have an opportunity to plan ahead for shopping, perhaps set aside cash instead of tapping into credit. Whatever the case, because I have this relationship with a brand, in this case, JCPenney, I am a more active consumer, versus passive — someone waiting until I need something and then heading to the closest retailer to get it, or the retailer that dominates the market in which I reside. Because my experience with that brand is likely to be integrated into my experience with Facebook, I can participate in brand conversations, even passively, several times a day. JCPenney has nearly a half million fans currently. That leaves the potential for engagement with hundreds of thousands of consumers at least once every single day.And when you consider that a fan page is free — the investment is really around resources. The conversations themselves are already happening. Facebook is just another channel for consumer conversations. The primary difference being these conversations have the potential to be two way. And, and this really critical, consumers can contribute to the public conversation. The brand is on the hook to be exactly who they say they are. Because if they aren’t truly authentic, consumers will call them out in this very public space.
The brand benefits too. They have a captive audience. They can monitor conversations they start. There’s viral potential around the content they put out. They are actively invited into the social experience of their constituency. They have opportunities to change audience perceptions around the brand. For instance – in the case of JCPenney, the conversation that ensued as a result of this Facebook commentary on the fan page was around private label blue jeans brands. Like Sears had Toughskins. It was news to me, but apparently JC Penney had a private label brand of their own. The comment centered around this group of friends and their history of experiences with the brand. But the brand has evolved. Those private label brands are no longer synonymous with low quality and JCPenney having a presence on Facebook gives them an opportunity to revise audience impressions of the brand and correlating products. This isn’t your mother’s JCPenney. This retail chain is all grown up. They are in tune with consumer expectations around trends, quality and price. And through their presence on Facebook they have opportunity to tell that story day after day.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of addressing the value to the consumer and the value to the brand. Once the conversation starts it is perpetuated by all of the players. But we aren’t so far away from brands any more that they aren’t listening to us, and we aren’t influencing how they evolve. One could actually argue that those people that signed on as Facebook fans of JCPenney early in this game really did have lives. In fact, they probably lead relatively thoughtful lives and hopefully are using these social connections to extend that thoughtfulness to their buying behavior.